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MARCH in the garden BY MICHAEL KELLY


I


absolutely love being a GIYer at this time of the year. It’s hard not to feel all spring-like and full of hope about life in


general when one sees a little green seedling emerging from the cold, brown earth. I want to talk a little about seed sowing in general, which can be such a challenge when you’re starting out with your GIYing, but is relatively straightforward once you get a bit of a system going. In particular I want to talk about seed


sowing “indoors” – that is, those seeds that are sown in protected conditions rather than sown directly in the soil outside. So, here’s how it breaks down. I sow


the following vegetables directly in the soil outside in the vegetable patch: potatoes, onions, garlic, shallots, peas, beans, parsnips and carrots. Pretty much everything else I sow indoors first and then (usually about 4-6 weeks later when the seedlings are a little bit hardy), I plant them out in the soil. The vegetables I sow this way include lettuce, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, sweetcorn, broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, celeriac, beetroot, spring onions, courgette, cucumber, kale, pumpkin,


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Tomatoe seed sowing


squash, spinach and turnip. Sowing seeds directly outside is of course,


a far easier way to do things. So why do we bother doing it a more convoluted way? Put simply, it’s far more effective. A seed sown in the soil outside has a lot to contend with in that difficult first 8 weeks of its life – among other things: frost, snow, rain, wind, slugs, snails and birds. By sowing indoors you are giving the seedling a chance to get itself established before it has to deal with these threats. As a result, you’re more likely to convert your seed sowing in to food eating, which let’s be honest is the whole point. Incidentally the word “indoors” can


have many different meanings for different people. When I started growing first, sowing


indoors meant actually sowing them inside the house. But when that got a bit out of control, I got myself a greenhouse/potting shed with benches where I grow seedlings. So, when I think of sowing “indoors” I am referring to the potting shed. Sowing indoors also allows you to cheat


on the growing season – by creating a warmer ambient temperature than that which exists outside, you can extend the growing season at either ends. This is particularly important for vegetables that have a very long growing season – examples are tomatoes, aubergines and


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peppers. You can cheat even further by buying a heated propagation unit which provides your seedlings with heat from beneath. Seed germination and subsequent seedling growth is more reliable and faster when using a propagation unit, particularly at this time of the year when the air tem- peratures are low.


THINGS TO DO THIS MONTH Continue to prepare ground – there is still time to prepare a plot to grow veg this year. Fork or rake over existing beds, breaking up large clods of earth. Cover new seedlings with fleece if a frost


is due. Start your daily slug patrols and lay beer traps.


SOW Indoors:


lettuce, aubergine, peppers, cu-


cumbers, celery, celeriac, sweet corn, basil, leeks, summer cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, parsley, courgette, French beans. Sow outdoors or under cover: broad beans, red cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, onions, leeks, turnip, peas, radishes, early lettuce, asparagus. Plant your first early seed potatoes, as soon as weather conditions allow. This month you could be enjoying (from


the ground and from storage) onions, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, varieties of lettuce, mint, sprouting broccoli, kale, rhubarb, chard, the first of the spring cauliflowers and cabbage, and spinach (perpetual, spinach beet).


TIP OF THE MONTH – GROW RED CABBAGE We’ve grown red cabbage for a few years now and it’s a very straight-forward plant to grow - pretty much untroubled by slugs and other pests once you get started. Red cabbage is very easy to grow from seed, so there’s no real need to buy those expensive plants in modules. Sow the seeds in a seed bed or in modules (one seed in each cell) and they will almost certainly reward you with fine plants later on.


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